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THE HANDMAID'S TALE

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Eva Janoskova

on 9 January 2016

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Transcript of THE HANDMAID'S TALE

THE HANDMAID'S TALE
Historical links
Female Bodies as Political Instruments
Language
Political system
Religion
Dystopia
Symbolism
Epigraph
Narrative
structure and mode

Setting
palimpsest
"As does every novel or poem, The Handmaid’s Tale has a couple of rules implicit in it, just as every piece of music does. One of the tasks I set myself when writing the novel was
to avoid including any practices that had not already happened somewhere, at some time
. One of the functions of the afterword is to
indicate the origins of some of the practices
described in the novel. But it is critical to understand that every single one of the practices described in the novel is drawn from the
historical record
."
the Handmaid’s uniform and status
public execution ␣
religious wars ␣
enforced religious conversion
propaganda and censorship
resistance movements
an underground railroad ␣
‘re-education’
other ethnicities and religion
fertility␣

Burqas - protecting the woman's dignity and minimising the temptation

Hijab and niqab - like the Handmaid's wings, limiting their vision and the male gaze (Taliban: "the face of a woman is a source of corruption")
Taliban's public executions: stoning
The Crusades

The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was among three faith groups (Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Serbian Orthodox).

Following the Protestant Reformation, wars in Europe generally took on a religious nature, with Catholics and Catholic nations opposing Protestantism (the Counter-Reformation).

Israel vs Palestine
In certain Islamic countries, Islam is enforced and compulsory by law; apostasy carries the death penalty.

In early modern England, Protestant ideals were forced upon the largely Catholic population, those who continued to practice Catholicism or who refused to turn up to protestant services were punished.
The church's use of propaganda particularly in Russia and early modern Europe: in Russia the Orthodox Church taught that the Russian Tzar was the "little father", the closest man to God on Earth.

A similar idea was adopted in the Anglican church with the British King or Queen being preached to be chosen by God (the Divine Right of Kings).

During Stalin's dictatorship, a "personality cult" was developed to ensure that the populace thought of Stalin in the way he wished, as a hero, a leader and the personification of good. This "personality cult" attained the fervor of a religious cult due to the antitheistic tendencies of Marxism-Leninism.
Mayday
Guerilla Movements

White Rose resistance organisation in Nazi Germany

French Resistance Movement

IRA
Underground
Femaleroad
, an underground network working to smuggle women out of Gilead.

References the Underground Railroad, which transported escaped slaves from safe house to safe house in the days before the Civil War in the United States.
Thought reforms or brainwashing (common in many communist countries)
African Americans, the main non-white ethnic group in this society, are called the
Children of Ham
. A state TV broadcast mentions their having been relocated en masse to "National Homelands" in the Midwest, which suggest the
Apartheid-era homelands
in South Africa.

- Jews, called
Sons of Jacob
, were offered a choice of converting to Christianity or emigrating to Israel, and most chose to leave.
- Some of the emigrating Jews were dumped into the sea on the way to Israel by ship, due to privatization of the "repatriation program" and capitalists' effort to maximize profits.
- Many Jews who chose to stay were caught secretly practicing Judaism and executed. (echoes of
Holocaust
)
WHIch religious group/sect RULES GILEAD?
Southern Baptist:
they are a fundamentalist Christian sect that is vehemently opposed by most of the other American religious sects
Catholics, Quakers and Baptists:
Gilead forces young Catholic nuns to either renounce their religion and become Handmaids, or else face exile to The Colonies
fights against the Quakers, many of which are helping Gilead’s women escape via the Underground Femaleroad
Gilead is engaged in open warfare with the Baptists
R-strain syphilis and AIDS
Still-births, miscarriages, deformities
pre-GILEAD:
HISTORY: Natalist policies
Nazi Germany
post-war Romania: banning birth control and abortions, persecuting abortionists, fining childless couples, glorification of child-rearing, titles awarded to fertile mothers
Taliban's aim was to create a
'secure environment where the chastity and dignity of women may once again be sacrosanct'
gender apartheid: women were not allowed to work
women were not allowed to be educated after the age of 8 and until then were permitted only to study the Qur'an.
women were not allowed to be treated by male doctors unless accompanied by a male chaperone, which led to illnesses remaining untreated.
women faced public flogging and execution for violations of the Taliban's laws.
MARGARET ATWOOD's AGENDA:
Salvaging
- denotes 'saving'; society at large is saved from the potential threat posed by the offenders who are hanged

Particicution
- portmanteau word: participation and execution; gruesome death for traitors and discourages other rebels
EPIGRAPHS
Old Testament, Genesis:
Justification of the concept of Handmaids
: Jacob was tricked into marrying
Leah
who bore him four sons; his second wife
Rachel
remained barren so asked Jacob to sleep with her handmaid Bilhah

Jonathan Swift's satire: Suffering from poverty? Sell your children to the rich to be consumed...

Sufi proverb: no need to prohibit the obvious?

- interconnected through the imagery of produce and consumption
- this juxtaposition of three extreme and absurd ideas prefigures the extent of the society's obsession with producing a healthy crop of children for its upper echelon
Complex sjuzet
Analepsis
Narrative gaps
Ambiguous ending
antithesis of utopia which is 'a place that does not exist', 'no place' -
Gilead is an amalgam of real places
SETTING
Deliberately
ambiguous
: textual hints - Cambridge, Massachusetts
Stronghold of USA's first religious and intolerant society -
Puritan
New England (symbolic
cyclicality
?)
Symbolizes the direct
link
between the Puritans and their spiritual heirs in Gilead. Both groups dealt harshly with religious, sexual, or political deviation.

Harvard University turned into a detention centre run by the
Eyes
(of God); corpses of dissidents hanging from the Harvard wall,
Salvagings
take place on the steps of the library (books forbidden - '
Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings
'
(H. Heine)

symbol of the
inverted world
that Gilead has created: a place that was founded to pursue knowledge and truth becomes a seat of oppression, torture, and the denial of every principle for which a university is supposed to stand.
Construction of the state catalysed by the control of reproduction


Control of reproduction synonymous with the control of women's bodies through political oppression


Political oppression (career options, suffrage, ownership of property, education) minimises women's potential for subversion and rebellion

GILEAD'S political structure
Subjugation of women is propagated through
pro-women rhetoric
(masked as 'protection')
Women seen as subhuman
Women deprived of individuality to be transformed into docile carriers of the next generation: Offred's generation is the
'transition generation'
- afterwards Gilead can produce a 'tabula rasa' (clean slate) with no knowledge of democracy
Oppression
PANOPTICON
- notion of
self-surveillance
- a circular prison designed by Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century: no prisoner could be certain of not being observed from the central watch-tower so the prisoners gradually began to police their own behaviour
- Gilead's
self-monitoring
: "Gilead is within you" (Aunt Lydia)

Visibility is a trap
. Each individual is seen but cannot communicate with the warders or other prisoners.
The crowd is abolished
.
The panopticon induces a sense of
permanent visibility
that ensures the functioning of power.
Power should be
visible yet unverifiable
. The prisoner can always see the tower but never knows from where he is being observed.
MICHEL FOUCALT
Women:
Wives
Daughters
Handmaids
Aunts
Ec
ono
wi
v
es
Marthas
Jezebels
Unwomen
+ Unbabies
seen as abhuman
Other religions
Biblical terminology:
African American - 'Children of Ham'
Jews - 'Sons of Jacob'
metonymically
colour-coded according to their function and their labour
men:
Commanders of the Faithful

Eyes

Angels

Guardians
metonymically
colour-coded according to their function and their labour
black
green
blue
(Virgin Mary)
red (fertility)
brown
m
ulti
colour
(
multi
-function
)
green
Keepers vs Shredders
pre-Gilead clothes/'from time before'
Names
- patronymic (Of) - seen as an extension of the male figure
taboo
- women's original names (identity suppressed)
- the adjective 'sterile'
NEOLOGISMS
Prayvaganzas
Particicutions
The connection between a state’s repression of its subjects and its perversion of language
('newspeak')
Conformism and COMPLACENCY
Oppression can be
willingly endured
as long as the subjects receive
some power or freedom
- Offred's mother: “truly amazing, what people can get used to, as long as there are a few compensations”

Offred’s
complacency
catalysed by her relationship with Nick (not helping Ofglen gather information on the Commander)

Serena Joy has
no power in the phallogocentric world
and thus becomes an
autocrat
in the domestic sphere - in her own household

Aunts (equivalent of Jewish Ghetto Police in Nazi Germany) -
indoctrinating
women and monitoring for rebellion (reporting on their own gender)

THT as Atwood's criticism of
human conformism
- also an underlying message that rebellion is futile (Offred's escape)?
RELIGIOUS TERMINOLOGY
Theocracy: no separation between state and religion; its official vocabulary incorporates religious terminology and biblical references
Handmaids, Marthas
Guardians of the Faith, Angels, Commanders of the Faithful (synthesising the notion of hierarchy with religious lexis)
shops: Loaves and Fishes, All Flesh (Is Grass), Milk and Honey
cars: Behemoth, Whirlwind, Chariot
Heresy?
'God is a national resource'
'Dances would have been held there; the music lingered, a
palimpsest
of unheard sound, style upon style, an undercurrent of drums, a forlorn wail, garlands made of tissue-paper flowers..." (description of the gymnasium)

Gilead can therefore be thought of as a palimpsest-under the structures it has imposed can still be seen the shapes and colours of the former society, which Offred recalls in analepses.
PALIMPSEST
A palimpsest - a parchment that has been written on several times. The previous texts have not been fully erased and are therefore still visible.
significance of intertextuality
Offred is part of a
collectively owned resource
: her tattoo is
'four digits and an eye, a passport in reverse. It's supposed to guarantee that I will never be able to fade, finally, into another landscape. I am too important... I am a national resource'
The eye on her ankle is a permanent reminder that
her body is under surveillance
; it is a tool over which an outside force has power.
Offred also sometimes refers to herself in the plural:
her individual identity has been subsumed by a collective identity
. She tells the Commander that '
our
skin gets dry' when speaking of her own skin and describes during the birthing scene that '
we
are one smile'.
This
collective
ownership of Offred's body replaces her
personal
ownership of her self. She no longer connects with her body; she exists outside of it.
Loss of individualism
Dystopia or speculative fiction?
Gilead: dogma-riddled
'Western Hemisphere Iran'
Totalitarian societies: the
individual
has no importance.
Individual
rights are sacrificed in favour of the goals of the
autocrat/ruling group/religion
, which are falsely equated with the
welfare of the whole society
.
Gilead is an extreme totalitarian regime: it denies the
integrity
not only of the individual person, but of the human body. (both male and female?)
Comment on the images, symbolism and colour connotations of each book cover
Epilogue
'TALE'
Can you link these images to The Handmaid's Tale?
What do we associate with the word 'tale'?
Can you link these images to THT?
totalitarian
oppression
theocracy
mosaic
palimpsest
panopticon
epigraph
sjuzet
analepsis
fragmented
Puritan
cyclicality
inversion
self-surveillance
Children of Ham
Sons of Jacob
stratification
individualism
collective identity
tabula rasa
democracy
rebellion
re-education
propaganda
resistance
utopia
speculative fiction
fertility
indoctrination
Find TEN correct statements
Eyes
Angels
Guardians
Commanders
Aunts
Unwomen
Wives
Jezebels
Daughters
Marthas
Handmaids
Econowives
STRATIFICATION
Can you place them in the correct order?
Identity in a Theocratic Totalitarian Society

Society and History

Passivity, Freedom and Indoctrination

Female Bodies
KEY QUOTATIONS
Can you link these images to the role of language in The Handmaid's Tale?
Wives
Daughters
Handmaids
Aunts
Econowives
Marthas
Jezebels
What is their colour/dress code?
COLOUR SYMBOLISM
The red colour symbolizes
fertility
(the caste’s primary function: the blood of the menstrual cycle and of childbirth).
The red colour is also a traditional marker of
sexual sin
- link to the scarlet letter worn by the adulterous Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter (a tale of Puritan ideology)
- The Handmaids’ reproductive role is justified in the Bible but are they technically committing adultery? (called 'sluts' by the Wives)
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
Who said...
Hitler's Propaganda minister
Joseph GOEBBELS
“Intellectual activity is a danger to the building of character”
"My Party is my church"
20th century interpretation
21st century interpretation
Can you link each image to The Handmaid's Tale?
I would like to believe this is a story I’m telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance. If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off.”
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
I would like to believe this is a story I’m telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance. If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off.”
Deprived of her integrity and control over own body, Offred can only exert control over the narrative.
I would like to believe this is a story I’m telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance. If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off.”
Deprived of her integrity and control over own body, Offred can only exert control over the narrative.
Offred is keen to present the reader with a 'herstory' - retaining her own voice as the only element of rebellion against Gileadean theocracy.
I would like to believe this is a story I’m telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance. If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off.”
Deprived of her integrity and control over own body, Offred can only exert control over the narrative.
Offred is keen to present the reader with a 'her-story' - retaining her own voice as the only element of rebellion against Gileadean theocracy.
Paradoxically, the editor and scholars who transcribed and examined the narrative are all male and thus the reader is perhaps presented with a '
his
tory' after all.
I would like to believe this is a story I’m telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance. If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off.”
Deprived of her integrity and control over own body, Offred can only exert control over the narrative.
Offred's reference to story-telling, clearly signposted in the very title of the text, can be interpreted as a tribute to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, with each tale named after a character's role in the society. Therefore, the title and the form reinforce the stratification of Gileadean society. Individual identity is suppressed and becomes synonymous with one's social status and function.
AO1
AO4
AO2
AO3
AO3
CONTROL OF LANGUAGE
-
monopolising
of language: only oppressed by the patriarchy? Are the Aunts an extension of patriarchy?
'We are hers to define, we must suffer her adjectives.' (On Aunt Lydia)
- Is gendered language an invention of Gilead?
“Fraternize means to behave like a brother. Luke told me that. He said there was no corresponding word that meant to behave like a sister. Sororitize, it would have to be, he said. From the Latin.” (p. 21)
Phallogocentrism
dictates that there is

no sense of solidarity amongst women
Destruction of the autonomy of the mental realm
Control of Language in THT and 1984
Read through the extract
Write down FIVE ideas, quotes or points of comparison
Blake:
'mind-forg'd manacles'
- as a result of political, economical, religious oppression, our minds create self-imposed limitations
Dystopian regimes - 'new maps of hell' (Kingsley Amis)
The Handmaid's Tale Crossword
Critical Perspectives
Structure and Form of Dystopian Fiction
Dystopian Literature (eMagazine)
Politics and Prophecy
The Road to Ustopia
FOCUS READINGS
Full transcript